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Full text of "The pleasures of music"

e Pleasures of Music 



By Aaron Copland 



An address at the University of New Hampshire 
April 16, 1959 



■SI.7TBP a "l 




The Pleasures of Music 



By Aaron Copland 



An address at the University of New Hampshire 
April 16, 1959 






This address was one of a Distinguished Lec- 
ture Series, established in 1957 at the University 
of New Hampshire to bring to the campus the most 
distinguished men of letters, arts, sciences, and 
public affairs. The lecturers were asked to prepare 
a special address for the occasion, and in addition 
to remain on the campus for two days to meet with 
classes in their own fields and to talk informally 
with faculty and students. 

Since the series was established the following 
have lectured: Archibald MacLeish, Lewis Mum- 
ford, Willard F. Libby, Aldous Huxley, Erich 
Fromm, Hermann J. Muller, Clarence B. Randall, 
Dean Acheson, Margaret Mead, Aaron Copland, 
and Oliver C. Carmichael. 



MUSIC LIBRARY. 









f 



Published by the University of New Hampshire 
July, 1959 



The Pleasures of Music 

By Aaron Copland 



JL ERHAPS I had better begin by explaining that I think of 
myself as a composer of music and not as a writer about 
music. This distinction may not seem important to you, 
especially when I admit to having published several books 
on the subject. But to me the distinction is paramount be- 
cause I know that if I were a writer I would be bubbling 
over with word-ideas about the art I practice, instead of 
which my mind — and not my mind only but my whole physi- 
cal being — vibrates to the stimulus of sound waves pro- 
duced by instruments sounding alone or together. Why this 
is so I cannot tell you, but I can assure you it is so. Re- 
membering then that I am primarily a composer and not a 
writer, I shall examine my subject mostly from the com- 
poser's standpoint in order to share with others, insofar as 
that is possible, the varied pleasures to be derived from ex- 
periencing music as an art. 



That music gives pleasure is axiomatic. Because that is 
so, the pleasures of music as a subject for discussion may 
seem to some of you a rather elementary dish to place be- 
fore so knowing an audience. But I think you will agree 
that the source of that pleasure, our musical instinct, is not 
at all elementary; it is, in fact, one of the prime puzzles 
of consciousness. Why is it that sound waves, when they 
strike the ear, cause "volleys of nerve impulses to flow up 
into the brain", resulting in a pleasurable sensation? More 
than that, why is it that we are able to make sense out of 
these "volleys of nerve signals" so that we emerge from 
engulfment in the orderly presentation of sound stimuli 
as if we had lived through a simulacrum of life, the in- 
stinctive life of the emotions? And why, when safely seated 
and merely listening, should our hearts beat faster, our 
temperature rise, our toes start tapping, our minds start 
racing after the music, hoping it will go one way and watch- 
ing it go another, deceived and disgruntled when we are 
unconvinced, elated and grateful when we acquiesce? 

We have a part answer, I suppose, in that the physical 
nature of sound has been thoroughly explored; but the phe- 
nomenon of music as an expressive, communicative agency 
remains as inexplicable as ever it was. We musicians don't 
ask for much. All we want is to have one investigator tell 
us why this young fellow seated in row A is firmly held 
by the musical sounds he hears while his girl friend gets 
little or nothing out of them, or vice versa. Think how many 
millions of useless practice hours might have been saved 
if some alert professor of genetics had developed a test 
for musical sensibility. The fascination of music for some 
human beings was curiously illustrated for me once during 
a visit I made to the showrooms of a manufacturer of elec- 
tronic organs. As part of my tour I was taken to see the 
practice room. There, to my surprise, I found not one but 
eight aspiring organists, all busily practicing simultaneous- 

2 



ly on eight organs. More surprising still was the fact that 
not a sound was audible, for all eight performers were listen- 
ing through earphones to their individual instrument. It 
was an uncanny sight, even for a fellow musician, to watch 
these grown men mesmerized, as it were, by a silent and in- 
visible genie. On that day I fully realized how mesmerized 
we ear-minded creatures must seem to our less musically- 
inclined friends. 

If music has impact for the mere listener, it follows that 
it will have much greater impact for those who sing it or 
play it themselves with some degree of proficiency. Any 
educated person in Elizabethan times was expected to be 
able to read musical notation and take his or her part in 
a madrigal-sing. Passive listeners, numbered in the millions, 
are a comparatively recent innovation. Even in my own 
youth, loving music meant that you either made it your- 
self, or you were forced out of the house to go hear it where 
it was being made, at considerable cost and some incon- 
venience. Nowadays all that has changed. Music has be- 
come so very accessible that it is almost impossible to 
avoid it. Perhaps you don't mind cashing a check at the 
local bank to the strains of a Brahms symphony, but I do. 
Actually, I think I spend as much time avoiding great works 
as others spend in seeking them out. The reason is simple: 
meaningful music demands one's undivided attention, and 
I can give it that only when I am in a receptive mood, and 
feel the need for it. The use of music as a kind of am- 
brosia to titillate the aural senses while one's conscious mind 
is otherwise occupied is the abomination of every composer 
who takes his work seriously. 

Thus, the music I have reference to in this talk is de- 
signed for your undistracted attention. It is, in fact, usual- 
ly labelled "serious" music in contradistinction to light or 
popular music. How this term "serious" came into being 
no one seems to know, but all of us are agreed as to its 

3 



inadequacy. It just doesn't cover enough cases. Very often 
our "serious" music is serious, sometimes deadly serious, 
but it can also be witty, humorous, sarcastic, sardonic, gro- 
tesque, and a great many other things besides. It is, indeed, 
the emotional range covered which makes it "serious" and, 
in part, influences our judgement as to the artistic stature 
of any extended composition. 

Everyone is aware that so-called serious music has made 
great strides in general public acceptance in recent years, 
but the term itself still connotes something forbidding and 
hermetic to the mass audience. They attribute to the profes- 
sional musician a kind of masonic initiation into secrets 
that are forever hidden from the outsider. Nothing could be 
more misleading. We all listen to music, professionals and 
non-professionals alike, in the same sort of way — in a 
dumb sort of way, really, because simple or sophisticated 
music attracts all of us, in the first instance, on the primor- 
dial level of sheer rhythmic and sonic appeal. Musicians 
are flattered, no doubt, by the deferential attitude of the 
layman in regard to what he imagines to be our secret un- 
derstanding of music. But in all honesty we musicians know 
that in the main we listen basically as others do, because 
music hits us with an immediacy that we recognize in the 
reactions of the most simple-minded of music listeners. 

It is part of my thesis that music, unlike the other arts, 
with the possible exception of dancing, gives pleasure si- 
multaneously on the lowest and highest levels of apprehen- 
sion. All of us, for example, can understand and feel the 
joy of being carried forward by the flow of music. Our love 
of music is bound up with its forward motion; nonetheless 
it is precisely the creation of that sense of flow, its inter- 
relation with and resultant effect upon formal structure, 
that calls forth high intellectual capacities of a composer, 
and offers keen pleasures for listening minds. Music's in- 
cessant movement forward exerts a double and contradic- 






4 



tory fascination: on the one hand it appears to be immo- 
bilizing time itself by filling out a specific temporal space, 
while generating at the same moment the sensation of flow- 
ing past us with all the pressure and sparkle of a great 
river. To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping 
of time itself, incredible and inconceivable. Only a catas- 
trophe of some sort produces such a break in the musical 
discourse during a public performance. Musicians are, of 
course, hardened to such interruptions during rehearsal peri- 
ods, but they don't relish them. The public, at such times, 
look on, unbelieving. I have seen this demonstrated each 
summer at Tanglewood during the open rehearsals of the 
Boston Symphony Orchestra. Large audiences gather each 
week, I am convinced, for the sole pleasure of living through 
that awe-full moment when the conductor abruptly stops the 
music. Something went wrong; no one seems to know what 
or why, but it stopped the music's flow, and a shock of recog- 
nition runs through the entire crowd. That is what they came 
for, though they may not realize it — that, and the pleas- 
ure of hearing the music's flow resumed, which lights up 
the public countenance with a kind of all's-right-with-the- 
world assurance. Clearly, audience enjoyment is inherent 
in the magnetic forward pull of the music; but to the more 
enlightened listener this time-filling forward drive has full- 
est meaning only when accompanied by some conception 
as to where it is heading, what musico-psychological ele- 
ments are helping to move it to its destination, and what 
formal architectural satisfactions will have been achieved 
on its arriving there. 

Musical flow is largely the result of musical rhythm, and 
the rhythmic factor in music is certainly a key element that 
has simultaneous attraction on more than one level. To 
some African tribes rhythm is music; they have little 
more. But what rhythm it is! Listening to it casually, one 
might never get beyond the ear-splitting poundings, but act- 

5 



ually a trained musician's ear is needed to disengage its 
polyrhythmic intricacies. Minds that conceive such rhythms 
have their own sophistication; it seems inexact and even 
unfair to call them primitive. By comparison our own in- 
stinct for rhythmic play seems only mild in interest, need- 
ing reinvigoration from time to time. 

It was because the ebb of rhythmic invention was com- 
paratively low in late nineteenth century European music 
that Stravinsky was able to apply what I once termed "a 
rhythmic hypodermic" to Western music. His shocker of 
1913, "The Rite of Spring," a veritable rhythmic mon- 
strosity to its first hearers, has now become a standard item 
of the concert repertory. This indicates the progress that 
has been made in the comprehension and enjoyment of 
rhythmic complexities that nonplussed our grandfathers. 
And the end is by no means in sight. Younger composers 
have taken us to the very limit of what the human hand can 
perform and have gone even beyond what the human ear 
can grasp in rhythmic differentiation. Sad to say, there is 
a limit, dictated by what nature has supplied us with in 
the way of listening equipment. But within those limits 
there are large areas of rhythmic life still to be explored, 
rhythmic forms never dreamt of by composers of the march 
or the mazurka. 

In so saying I do not mean to minimize the rhythmic in- 
genuities of past eras. The wonderfully subtle rhythms of 
the anonymous composers of the late fourteenth century, 
only recently deciphered; the delicate shadings of oriental 
rhythms; the carefully contrived speech-based rhythms of 
the composers of Tudor England; and bringing things closer 
to home, the improvised wildness of jazz-inspired rhythms 
— all these and many more must be rated, certainly, as 
prime musical pleasures. 

Tone color is another basic element in music that may 
be enjoyed on various levels of perception from the most 

6 



naive to the most cultivated. Even children have no diffi- 
culty in recognizing the difference between the tonal profile 
of a flute and a trombone. The color of certain instruments 
holds an especial attraction for certain people. I myself 
have always had a weakness for the sound of eight French 
horns playing in unison. Their rich, golden, legendary son- 
ority transports me. Some present-day European composers 
seem to be having a belated love affair with the vibraphone. 
An infinitude of possible color combinations are available 
when instruments are mixed, especially when combined in 
that wonderful contraption, the orchestra of symphonic pro- 
portions. The art of orchestration, needless to say, holds end- 
less fascination for the practicing composer, being part sci- 
ence and part inspired guess-work. 

As a composer I get great pleasure from cooking up 
tonal combinations. Over the years I have noted that no 
element of the composer's art mystifies the layman more 
than this ability to conceive mixed instrumental colors. But 
remember that before we mix them we hear them in terms 
of their component parts. If you examine an orchestral score 
you will note that composers place their instruments on the 
page in family groups: reading from top to bottom it is 
customary to list the woodwinds, the brass, the percussion, 
and the strings, in that order. Modern orchestral practice 
often juxtaposes these families one against the other so that 
their personalities, as families, remain recognizable and 
distinct. This principle may also be applied to the voice 
of the single instrument, whose pure color sonority thereby 
remains clearly identifiable as such. Orchestral know-how 
consists in keeping the instruments out of each other's way, 
so spacing them that they avoid repeating what some other 
instrument is already doing, at least in the same register, 
thereby exploiting to the fullest extent the specific color 
value contributed by each separate instrument or grouped 
instrumental family. 



In modern orchestration clarity and definition of sonor- 
ous image is usually the goal. There exists, however, an- 
other kind of orchestral magic dependent on a certain am- 
biguity of effect. Not to be able to identify immediately 
how a particular color combination is arrived at adds to its 
attractiveness. I like to be intrigued by unusual sounds which 
force me to exclaim: Now I wonder how the composer does 
that? 

From what I have said about the art of orchestration, 
you may have gained the notion that it is nothing more than 
a delightful game, played for the amusement of the com- 
poser. That is, of course, not true. Color in music, as in 
painting, is meaningful only when it serves the expressive 
idea; it is the expressive idea that dictates to the composer 
the choice of his orchestral scheme. 

Part of the pleasure in being sensitive to the use of color 
in music is to note in what way a composer's personality 
traits are revealed through his tonal color schemes. Dur- 
ing the period of French impressionism, for example, the 
composers Debussy and Ravel were thought to be very simi- 
lar in personality. An examination of their orchestral scores 
would have shown that Debussy, at his most characteristic, 
sought for a spray-like irridescence, a delicate and sensuous 
sonority such as had never before been heard, while Ravel, 
using a similar palette, sought a refinement and precision, 
a gem-like brilliance that reflects the more objective nature 
of his musical personality. 

Color ideals change for composers as their personalities 
change. A striking example is again that of Igor Stravinsky 
who, beginning with the stabbing reds and purples of his 
early ballet scores, has in the past decade arrived at an 
ascetic greyness of tone that positively chills the listener 
by its austerity. For contrast we may turn to a Richard 
Strauss orchestral score, masterfully handled in its own 
way, but over-rich in the piling-on of sonorities, like a 

8 



German meal that is too filling for comfort. The natural and 
easy handling of orchestral forces by a whole school of 
contemporary American composers would indicate some in- 
born affinity between American personality traits and sym- 
phonic language. No layman can hope to penetrate all the 
subtleties that go into an orchestral page of any complexity, 
but here again it is not necessary to be able to analyze the 
color spectrum of a score in order to bask in its effulgence. 

Thus far I have been dealing with the generalities of 
musical pleasure. Now I wish to concentrate on the music 
of a few composers in order to show how musical values 
are differentiated. The late Serge Koussevitzky, conductor 
of the Boston Symphony, never tired of telling performers 
that if it weren't for composers they would literally have 
nothing to play or sing. He was stressing what is too often 
taken for granted and, therefore, lost sight of, namely, that 
in our Western world music speaks with a composer's voice 
and half the pleasure we get comes from the fact that we 
are listening to a particular voice making an individual 
statement at a specific moment in history. Unless you take 
off from there you are certain to miss one of the principal 
attractions of musical art, namely, contact with a strong 
and absorbing personality. 

It matters greatly therefore, who it is we are about to 
listen to in the concert hall or opera house. And yet I get 
the impression that to the lay music-lover music is music 
and musical events are attended with little or no concern 
as to what musical fare is to be offered. Not so with the 
professional, to whom it matters a great deal whether he 
is about to listen to the music of Monteverdi or Massenet, 
to J. S. or to J. C. Bach. Isn't it true that everything we, 
as listeners, know about a particular composer and his music 
prepares us in some measure to empathize with his special 
mentality. To me Chopin is one thing, Scarlatti quite an- 
other. I could never confuse them, could you? Well, whether 



you could or not, my point remains the same: there are as 
many ways for music to be enjoyable as there are com- 
posers. 

One can even get a certain perverse pleasure out of hat- 
ing the work of a particular composer. I, for instance, hap- 
pen to be rubbed the wrong way by one of today's com- 
poser-idols, Serge Rachmaninoff. The prospect of having to 
sit through one of his extended symphonies or piano con- 
certos tends, quite frankly, to depress me. All those notes, 
think I, and to what end? To me, Rachmaninoff 's character- 
istic tone is one of self-pity and self-indulgence tinged with 
a definite melancholia. As a fellow human being I can 
sympathize with an artist whose distempers produced such 
music, but as a listener my stomach won't take it. I grant 
you his technical adroitness, but even here the technique 
adopted by the composer was old-fashioned in his own day. 
I also grant his ability to write long and singing melodic 
lines, but when these are embroidered with figuration, the 
musical substance is watered down, emptied of significance. 
Well, as Andre Gide used to say, I didn't have to tell you 
this, and I know it will not make you happy to hear it. 
Actually it should be of little concern to you whether I 
find Rachmaninoff digestible or not. All I am trying to say 
is that music strikes us in as many different ways as there 
are composers, and anything less than a strong reaction, pro 
or con, is not worth bothering about. 

By contrast, let me point to that perennially popular fav- 
orite among composers, Guiseppe Verdi. Quite apart from 
his music, I get pleasure merely thinking about the man 
himself. If honesty and forthrightness ever sparked an art- 
ist, then Verdi is a prime example. What a pleasure it is 
to make contact with him through his letters, to knock against 
the hard core of his peasant personality. One comes away 
refreshed, and with renewed confidence in the sturdy, non- 
neurotic character of at least one musical master. 

10 



When I was a student it was considered not good form 
to mention Verdi's name in symphonic company, and quite 
out of the question to name Verdi in the same sentence with 
that formidable dragon of the opera house, Richard Wagner. 
What the musical elite found difficult to forgive in Verdi's 
case was his triteness, his ordinariness. Yes, Verdi is trite 
and ordinary at times, just as Wagner is long-winded and 
boring at times. There is a lesson to be learned here: the 
way in which we are gradually able to accommodate our 
minds to the obvious weaknesses in a creative artist's out- 
put. Musical history teaches us that at first contact the 
academicisms of Brahms, the longeurs of Schubert, the por- 
tentousness of Mahler were considered insupportable by 
their early listeners, but in all such cases later generations 
have managed to put up with the failings of men of genius 
for the sake of other qualities that outweigh them. 

Verdi can be commonplace at times, as everyone knows, 
but his saving grace is a burning sincerity that carries all 
before it. There is no bluff here, no guile. On whatever level 
he composed, a no-nonsense quality comes across; all is 
directly stated, cleanly written with no notes wasted, and 
marvelously effective. In the end we willingly concede that 
Verdi's musical materials need not be especially choice in 
order to be acceptable. And, naturally enough, when the 
musical materials are choice and inspired, they profit doub- 
ly from being set-off against the homely virtues of his more 
workaday pages. 

Verdi's creative life lasted for more than half a century, 
advancing steadily in musical interest and sophistication. 
So prolonged a capacity for development has few parallels 
in musical annals. There is a special joy in following the 
milestones of a career that began so modestly and obscurely, 
leading gradually to the world renown of "Traviata" and 
"Aida," and then, to the general astonishment of the musi- 



11 



cal community, continuing on in the eighth decade of his 
life to the crowning achievements of "Otello" and "Falstaff". 

If one were asked to name one musician who came clos- 
est to composing without human flaw, I suppose general 
consensus would choose Johann Sebastian Bach. Only a few 
musical giants have earned the universal admiration that 
surrounds the figure of this eighteenth century German mas- 
ter. America should love Bach, for he is the greatest, as 
we would say, or, if not the greatest, he has few rivals and 
no peers. What is it, then, that makes his finest scores so 
profoundly moving? I have puzzled over that question for 
a very long time, but have come to doubt whether it is 
possible for anyone to reach a completely satisfactory an- 
swer. One thing is certain; we will never explain Bach's 
supremacy by the singling out of any one element in his 
work. Rather it was a combination of perfections, each of 
which was applied to the common practice of his day; added 
together they produced the mature perfection of the com- 
pleted oeuvre. 

Bach's genius cannot possibly be deduced from the cir- 
cumstances of his routine musical existence. All his life he 
wrote music for the requirements of the jobs he held. His 
melodies were often borrowed from liturgical sources, his 
orchestral textures limited by the forces at his disposal, and 
his forms, in the main., were similar to those of other com- 
posers of his time, whose works, incidentally, he had closely 
studied. To his more up-to-date composer sons Father Bach 
was, first of all, a famous instrumental performer, and only 
secondarily a solid craftsman-creator of the old school, 
whose compositions were little known abroad for the simple 
reason that few of them were published in his lifetime. 
None of these oft-repeated facts explain the universal hold 
his best music has come to have on later generations. 

What strikes me most markedly about Bach's work is 
the marvelous rightness of it. It is the rightness not merely 

12 



of a single individual but of a whole musical epoch. Bach 
came at the peak point of a long historical development; 
his was the heritage of many generations of composing 
artisans. Never since that time has music so successfully 
fused contrapuntal skill with harmonic logic. This amalgam 
of melodies and chords, of independent lines conceived 
linear-fashion within a mold of basic harmonies conceived 
vertically, provided Bach with the necessary framework for 
his massive edifice. Within that edifice is the summation of an 
entire period, with all the grandeur, nobility, and inner 
depth that one creative soul could bring to it. It is hope- 
less, I fear, to attempt to probe further into why his music 
creates the impression of spiritual wholeness, the sense of 
his communing with the deepest vision. We would only find 
ourselves groping for words, words that can never hope to 
encompass the intangible greatness of music, least of all the 
intangible in Bach's greatness. 

Those who are interested in studying the inter-relation- 
ship between a composer and his work would do better to 
turn to the century that followed Bach's, and especially to 
the life and work of Ludwig von Beethoven. The English 
critic, Wilfred Mellers, had this to say about Beethoven re- 
cently: "It is the essence of the personality of Beethoven, 
both as man and as artist, that he should invite discussion 
in other than musical terms." Mellers meant that such a 
discussion would involve us, with no trouble at all, in a 
consideration of the rights of man, free will, Napoleon and 
the French Revolution, and other allied subjects. We shall 
never know in exactly what way the ferment of historical 
events affected Beethoven's thinking, but it is certain that 
music such as his would have been inconceivable in the 
early nineteenth century without serious concern for the 
revolutionary temper of his time and the ability to translate 
that concern into the original and unprecedented musical 



thought of his own work. 



13 



Beethoven brought three startling innovations to music. 
First, he altered our very conception of the art by emphasiz- 
ing the psychological element implicit in the language of 
sounds. Because of him, music lost a certain innocence but 
gained instead a new dimension in psychological depth. Sec- 
ondly, his own stormy and explosive temperament was, in 
part, responsible for a "dramatization of the whole art of 
music." The rumbling bass tremolandos, the sudden accents 
in unexpected places, the hitherto unheard-of rhythmic in- 
sistence and sharp dynamic contrasts — all these were ex- 
ternalizations of an inner drama that gave his music thea- 
trical impact. Both these elements — the psychological ori- 
entation and the instinct for drama — are inextricably linked 
in my mind with his third and possibly most original achieve- 
ment: the creation of musical forms dynamically conceived 
on a scale never before attempted and of an inevitability 
that is irresistible. Especially the sense of inevitability is 
remarkable in Beethoven. Notes are not words, they are not 
under the control of verifiable logic, and because of that 
composers in every age have struggled to overcome that 
handicap by producing a directional effect convincing to 
the listener. No composer has ever solved the problem more 
brilliantly than Beethoven; nothing quite so inevitable had 
ever before been created in the language of sounds. 

One doesn't need much historical perspective to realize 
what a shocking experience Beethoven's music must have 
been for his first listeners. Even today, given the nature of 
his music, there are times when I simply do not understand 
how this man's art was "sold" to the big musical public. 
Obviously he must be saying something that everyone wants 
to hear. And yet if one listens freshly and closely the odds 
against acceptance are equally obvious. As sheer sound there 
is little that is luscious about his music — it gives off a 
comparatively "dry" sonority. He never seems to flatter an 
audience, never to know or care what they might like. His 

14 



themes are not particularly lovely or memorable; they are 
more likely to be expressively apt than beautifully con- 
toured. His general manner is gruff and unceremonious, as 
if the matter under discussion were much too important 
to be broached in urbane or diplomatic terms. He adopts 
a peremptory and hortatory tone, the assumption being, es- 
pecially in his most forceful work, that you have no choice 
but to listen. And that is precisely what happens: you listen. 
Above and beyond every other consideration Beethoven has 
one quality to a remarkable degree: he is enormously com- 
pelling. 

What is it he is so compelling about? How can one not 
be compelled and not be moved by the moral fervor and 
conviction of such a man. His finest works are the enact- 
ment of a triumph — a triumph of affirmation in the face 
of the human condition. Beethoven is one of the great yea- 
sayers among creative artists; it is exhilarating to share his 
clear-eyed contemplation of the tragic sum of life. His music 
summons forth our better nature; in purely musical terms 
Beethoven seems to be exhorting us to Be Noble, Be Strong, 
Be Great in Heart, yes, and Be Compassionate. These ethi- 
cal precepts we subsume from the music, but it is the music 
itself — the nine symphonies, the sixteen string quartets, 
the thirty-two piano sonatas — that holds us, and holds us 
in much the same way each time we return to it. The core 
of Beethoven's music seems indestructible; the ephemera 
of sound seem to have little to do with its strangely immut- 
able substance. 

What a contrast it is to turn from the starkness of Bee- 
thoven to the very different world of a composer like Pales- 
trina. Palestrina's music is heard more rarely than that of 
the German master; possibly because of that it seems more 
special and remote. In Palestrina's time it was choral music 
that held the center of the stage, and many composers lived 
their lives, as did Palestrina, attached to the service of the 

15 



Church. Without knowing the details of his life story, and 
from the evidence of the music alone, it is clear that the 
purity and serenity of his work reflects a profound inner 
peace. Whatever the stress and strain of daily living in six- 
teenth century Rome may have been, his music breathes 
quietly in some place apart. Everything about it conduces 
to the contemplative life: the sweetness of the modal har- 
monies, the step-wise motion of the melodic phrases, the 
consummate ease in the handling of vocal polyphony. His 
music looks white upon the page and sounds "white" in the 
voices. Its homogeneity of style, composed, as much of it 
was, for ecclesiastical devotions, gives it a pervading mood 
of impassivity and other-worldliness. Such music, when it 
is merely routine, can be pale and dull. But at its best, Pal- 
estrina's masses and motets create an ethereal loveliness 
that only the world of tones can embody. 

My concern here with composers of the first rank like 
Bach and Beethoven and Palestrina is not meant to suggest 
that only the greatest names and the greatest masterpieces 
are worth your attention. Musical art, as we hear it in our 
day, suffers if anything from an over-dose of masterworks, 
an obsessive fixation on the glories of the past. This nar- 
rows the range of our musical experience and tends to suf- 
focate interest in the present. It blots out many an excellent 
composer whose work was less than perfect. I cannot agree, 
for instance, with Albert Schweitzer who once remarked that 
"of all arts music is that in which perfection is a sine qua 
non, and that predecessors of Bach were foredoomed to com- 
parative oblivion because their works were not mature." It 
may be carping to say so, but the fact is that we tire of 
everything, even of perfection. It would be truer to point 
out, it seems to me, that the forerunners of Bach have an 
awkward charm and simple grace that not even he could 
match, just because of his mature perfection. Delacroix had 
something of my idea when he complained in his Journal 

16 



about Racine being too perfect: "that perfection and the 
absence of breaks and incongruities deprive him of the spice 
one finds in works full of beauties and defects at the same 
time." 

Our musical pleasures have been largely extended in re- 
cent years by familiarity (often through recordings) with 
a period of musical history, "full of beauties and defects", 
that long antedates the era of Bach. Musicologists, some- 
times reproached for their pedanticism, have in this case 
put before us musicial delicacies revived out of what ap- 
peared to be an unrecoverable past. Pioneering groups in 
more than one musical center have revivified a whole musi- 
cal epoch by deciphering early manuscripts of anonymous 
composers, reconstructing obsolete instruments, imagining, 
as best they can, what may have been the characteristic 
vocal sound in that far-off time. Out of scholarly research 
and a fair amount of plain conjecture they have made it 
possible for us to hear music of an extraordinary sadness 
and loneliness, with a textural bareness that reminds us at 
times of the work of some present-day composers. This is 
contrasted with dance-like pieces that are touching in their 
innocence. The naivete of this music — or what seems to 
us naive — has encouraged a polite approach to the prob- 
lems of actual performance that I find hard to connect with 
the more rugged aspects of the Middle Ages. But no mat- 
ter; notions as to interpretation will change and in the mean- 
time we have learned to stretch the conventional limits of 
usable musical history and draw upon a further storehouse 
of musical treasures. 

A young American poet wrote recently: "We cannot know 
anything about the past unless we know about the present." 
Part of the pleasure of involving oneself with the arts is 
in the excitement of venturing out among its contemporary 
manifestations. But a strange thing happens in this con- 
nection in the field of music. The same people who find it 

17 



quite natural that modern books, plays, or paintings are 
likely to be controversial seem to want to escape being 
challenged and troubled when they turn to music. In our 
field there appears to be a never-ending thirst for the fa- 
miliar, and very little curiosity as to what the newer com- 
posers are up to. Such music-lovers, as I see it, simply 
don't love music enough, for if they did their minds would 
not be closed to an area that holds the promise of fresh 
and unusual musical experience. Charles Ives used to say 
that people who couldn't put up with dissonance in music 
had "sissy ears". Fortunately, there are in all countries to- 
day some braver souls who mind not at all having to dig 
a bit for their musical pleasure, who actually enjoy being 
confronted with the creative artist who is problematical. 

Paul Valery tells us that in France it was Stephane Mall- 
arme who became identified in the public mind as the pro- 
totype of difficult author. It was his poetry, according to 
Valery, that engendered a new species of reader, who, as 
Valery puts it, "couldn't conceive of plaisir sans peine 
(pleasure without trouble), who didn't like to enjoy him- 
self without paying for it, and who even couldn't feel happy 
unless his joy was in some measure the result of his own 
work, wishing to feel what his own effort cost him. . ." 
This passage is exactly applicable to certain lovers of con- 
temporary music. They refuse to be frightened off too easily. 
I myself, when I encounter a piece of music whose import 
escapes me immediately, think: "I'm not getting this, I shall 
have to come back to it for a second or third try." I don't 
at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, 
but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously under- 
stand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as 
unfinished business. 

This doesn't resolve the problem of the music-lover of 
good will who says: "I'd like to like this modern stuff, but 
what do I do?" Well, the unvarnished truth is that there 

18 



are no magic formulas, no short-cuts for making the unfa- 
miliar seem comfortably familiar. There is no advice one 
can give other than to say: relax — that's of first import- 
ance, and then listen to the same pieces enough times to 
really matter. Fortunately not all new music must be rated 
as difficult to comprehend. I once had occasion to divide 
contemporary composers into categories of relative difficulty 
from very easy to very tough, and a surprising number of 
composers fitted into the first group. Of the problematical 
composers it is the practicioners of twelve-tone music who 
are the hardest to comprehend because their abandonment 
of tonality constitutes a body blow to age-old listening habits. 
No other phase of the new in music, not the violence of 
expression, nor the dissonant counterpoint, nor the unusual 
forms, have offered the stumbling block of the loss of a 
centered tonality. What Arnold Schonberg began in the first 
decade of this century, moving from his tonally liberated 
early pieces to his fully integrated twelve-tone compositions, 
has shaken the very foundations of musical art. No wonder 
it is still in the process of being gradually absorbed and 
digested. 

The question that wants answering is whether Schonberg's 
twelve-tone music is the way to the future or whether it is 
merely a passing phase. Unfortunately it must remain an 
open question for there are no guaranteed prognostications 
in the arts. All we know is that so-called difficult composers 
have sometimes been the subject of remarkable revisions of 
opinion. One recent example is the case of Bela Bartok. 
None of us who knew his music at the time of his death 
in 1945 could have predicted the sudden upsurge of inter- 
est in his work and its present world-wide dissemination. 
One would have thought his musical speech too dour, too 
insistent, too brittle and uncompromising to hold the atten- 
tion of the widest audience. And yet we were proved wrong. 
Conductors and performers seized upon his work at what 

19 



must have been the right moment, a moment when the big 
public was ready for his kind of rhythmic vitality, his 
passionate and despairing lyricism, his superb organiza- 
tional gift that rounds out the over-all shape of a movement 
while keeping every smallest detail relevant to the main dis- 
course. Whatever the reasons, the Bartok case proves that 
there is an unconscious evolutionary process at work, re- 
sponsible for sudden awareness and understanding in our 
listening habits. 

One of the attractions of concerning oneself with the new 
in music is the possible discovery of important work by the 
younger generation of composers. Certain patrons of music, 
certain publishers and conductors, and more rarely some 
older composers have shown a special penchant for what 
the younger generation is up to. Franz Liszt, for instance, 
was especially perceptive in sensing the mature composer 
while still in the embryonic stage. In his own day he was in 
touch with and encouraged the nationalist strivings of young 
composers like Grieg, Smetana, Borodine, Albeniz, and our 
own Edward MacDowell. The French critic, Sainte-Beuve, 
writing at about that period, had this to say about discover- 
ing young talent: "I know of no pleasure more satisfying 
for the critic than to understand and describe a young talent 
in all its freshness, its open and primitive quality, before 
it is glossed over later by whatever is acquired and perhaps 
manufactured." 

Today's typical young men appeared on the scene in the 
postwar years. They upset their elders in the traditional 
way by positing a new ideal for music. This time they called 
for a music that was to be thoroughly controlled in its 
every particular. As hero they chose a pupil and disciple 
of Schonberg, Anton Webern, whose later music was in 
many ways a more logical and less romantic application 
of Schonbergian twelve-tone principles. Inspired by Webern's 
curiously original and seldom performed music, every ele- 

20 



ment of musical composition was now to be put under rig- 
orous control. Not only the tone rows and their resultant 
harmonies, but even rhythms and dynamics were to be given 
the dodecaphonic treatment. The music they produced, ad- 
mirably logical on paper, makes a rather haphazard im- 
pression in actual performance. I very well remember my 
first reactions on hearing examples of the latest music of 
these young men, because I noted them at the time. Let me 
read you a brief excerpt: "One gets the notion that these 
boys are starting again from the beginning, with the separ- 
ate tone and the separate sonority. Notes are strewn about 
like disjecta membra; there is an end to continuity in the 
old sense and an end of thematic relationships. In this music 
one waits to hear what will happen next without the slight- 
est idea what will happen, or why what happened did hap- 
pen once it has happened. Perhaps one can say modern 
painting of the Paul Klee school has invaded the new music. 
The so-to-speak disrelation of unrelated tones is the way I 
might describe it. No one really knows where it will go, and 
neither do I. One thing is sure, however. Whatever the lis- 
tener may think of it, it is without doubt the most frustrating 
music ever put on a performer's music-stand." 

Since making those notations some of the younger Euro- 
pean composers have branched off into the first tentative 
experiments with electronically produced music. No per- 
formers, no musical instruments, no microphones are needed. 
But one must be able to record on tape and be able to feed 
into it electromagnetic vibrations. Those of you who have 
heard recordings of recent electronic compositions will agree, 
I feel sure, that in this case we shall have to broaden our 
conception of what is to be included under the heading of 
musical pleasure. It will have to take into account areas of 
sound hitherto excluded from the musical scheme of things. 
And why not? With so many other of man's assumptions 
subject to review, how could one expect music to remain 

21 



the same? Whatever we may think of their efforts, these 
young experimenters obviously need more time; it is point- 
less to attempt evaluations before they have more fully ex- 
plored the new terrain. A few names have come to the fore: 
in Germany, Karlheinz Stockhausen; in France, Pierre 
Boulez; in Italy, Luigi Nono and Luciano Berio. What they 
have composed has produced polemics, publication, radio 
sponsorship abroad, annual conclaves — but no riots. The 
violent reaction of the 'teens and twenties to the then 
new music of Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, and Schonberg 
is, apparently, not to be repeated so soon again. We have 
all learned a thing or two about taking shocks, musical and 
otherwise. The shock may be gone but the challenge is still 
there and if our love for music is as all-embracing as it 
should be, we ought to want to meet it head on. 

It hardly seems possible to conclude a talk on musical 
pleasures at an American university without mentioning that 
ritualistic word, jazz. But, someone is sure to ask, is jazz 
serious? I'm afraid that it is too late to bother with the 
question, since jazz, serious or not, is very much here, and 
it obviously provides pleasure. The confusion comes, I be- 
lieve, from attempting to make the jazz idiom cover broader 
expressive areas than naturally belong to it. Jazz does not 
do what serious music does either in its range of emotional 
expressivity nor in its depth of feeling, nor in its universality 
of language. (It does have universality of appeal, which is 
not the same thing.) On the other hand, jazz does do what 
serious music cannot do, namely, suggest a colloquialism 
of musical speech that is indigenously delightful, a kind of 
here-and-now feeling, less enduring than classical music, 
perhaps, but with an immediacy and vibrancy that audi- 
ences throughout the world find exhilarating. 

Personally I like my jazz free and untramelled, as far 
removed from the regular commercial product as possible. 
Fortunately, the more progressive jazz men seem to be less 

22 



and less restrained by the conventionalities of their idiom, 
so little restrained that they appear in fact to be headed 
our way. By that I mean that harmonic and structural free- 
doms of recent serious music have had so considerable an 
influence on the younger jazz composers that it becomes 
increasingly difficult to keep the categories of jazz and non- 
jazz clearly divided. A new kind of cross-fertilization of our 
two worlds is developing that promises an unusual synthesis 
for the future. We on the serious side greatly envy the virt- 
uosity of the jazz instrumentalist, particularly his ability to 
improvise freely, and sometimes spectacularly apropos of 
a given theme. The jazz men, on their side, seem to be 
taking themselves with a new seriousness; to be exploring 
new instrumental combinations, daring harmonic patterns — 
going so far occasionally as to give up the famous jazz 
beat that keeps all its disparate elements together, and tak- 
ing on formal problems far removed from the symmetrical 
regularities imposed on an earlier jazz. Altogether the scene 
is lively, very lively, and a very full half-century away 
from the time when Debussy was inspired to write Golli- 
wog's Cakewalk. 

By now I hope to have said enough to have persuaded 
you of the largesse of musical pleasure that awaits the 
gifted listener. The art of music, without specific subject 
matter and little specific meaning, is nonetheless a balm for 
the human spirit; not a refuge or escape from the realities 
of existence, but a haven wherein one makes contact with 
the essence of human experience. I myself take sustenance 
from music as one would from a spring. I invite you all 
to partake of that pleasure. 



23 



Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, 
November 14, 1900. After his graduation from high 
school, he took private lessons in piano and composition 
and received a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 
1925-26. The following year he began lecturing on music 
at the New School for Social Research in New York 
and remained there until 1937. He has been on the fac- 
ulty of the Berkshire Music Center and of Harvard, 
serving the latter not only as a lecturer in music but as 
Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry during 1951- 
52. In 1956 he received an honorary Doctor of Music 
degree from Princeton. 



--& J 



Since his start as a composer in 1920, Mr. Copland 
has received a number of awards for his contributions 
to the field of music. The Pulitzer Prize in 1944 high- 
lights a list of honors which include the RCA Victor 
Award (1930) and the 1956 presentation of a gold 
medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 
An honorary member of Accademia Santa Cecilia in 
Rome, he has been a director of several organizations 
including the International Society of Contemporary 
Music. 

Mr. Copland's compositions range from orchestral 
works such as his "First Symphony" in 1925 to the 
Oscar-winning film score from "The Heiress". "Appa- 
lachian Spring", a ballet he created in 1944, received 
the New York Music Critics Circle Award. He has also 
written a number of books devoted to the appreciation 
of music and its status in our lives. 



WELLESLEY COLLEGE LIBRARY 




3 5002 03353 4426 



Music ML 60 . C825 P5 



Copland, Aaron, 1900-1990, 



The pleasures of music. 

WELLESLEY COLLEGE LIBRARY